The French ski resort they said could never work… 60 years later La Rosière is thriving (and the pistes never get crowded!)
- During the Sixties La Rosière’s first ski-lift, called the Poletta drag, opened
- Since then, the French resort town on the Italian border has continued to grow
- And with a 1,900-room Club Med opening next year, go now to beat the crowds
In L’Antigel, a slope-side restaurant high above La Rosière, my ski instructor is explaining how cows help maintain ski slopes.
Slopes which are well-grazed hold snow better in the winter. He knows this because during the summer he works as a farmer, herding cattle across the steep valleys high above La Rosière.
La Rosière locals have always been a tough lot. Take the councillors who, in the 1960s, decided the slopes surrounding their small alpine village would make the perfect pistes. They wanted to create a small ski resort, but were refused the funding due to concerns that La Rosière would struggle to hold enough snow. The councillors disagreed and took matters into their own hands, building the resort’s first lift, the Poletta drag, which still runs today.
A skier hits the slopes in La Rosière, the alpine town has been hosting skiers since the 1960s
Perhaps they were inspired by Hannibal, who crossed the nearby Petit-Saint-Bernard pass in 218 BC. Either way, the resort was a success, and sixty years after that first drag lift was built, there’s been another flurry of lift-related construction – this time, on La Rosière’s upper slopes, where I find two new six-seater chairlifts beneath the imposing peak of Mont Valaisan.
The Moulins Express whisks me from 1,935m to 2,450m in under five minutes. From here, I can fly down five new red pistes, or ride the other new chairlift, the Mont Valaisan Express, to a lung-busting 2,800m. The £13m ski area has transformed the resort into a worthy rival to Les Arcs, just across the valley. The main difference? La Rosière’s 152km of piste rarely get crowded.
But investors are certainly taking note. In winter 2020/21, Club Med will open a sprawling, 1,900-bed ski-in, ski-out resort, slightly above La Rosière’s centre. And since late 2017 the resort has been home to France’s first Hyatt Centric. As someone who loves cosy alpine chalets I’m sceptical of this boutique hotel, but it soon wins me over.
The snow-topped chalets of La Rosière overlooking the French and Italian Alps
Another new opening is Chalet L’Aiglon, a recently-renovated seven-bedroom bolthole near the resort’s centre. It’s run by British couple Freja and Jonny, who’ve been coming here for decades. The couple run L’Aiglon on behalf of the owner, who transformed a four-person chalet into one of the resort’s most opulent properties. No expense has been spared and my favourite feature is the bean bag-dotted glass-floored space above the dining room, with its panoramic views of the French Alps.
But I’m here to ski, so I take the chairlifts to the top of the col between France and Italy. I love the ease with which I can slip across the border to the Italian resort of La Thuile. Another advantage is the heli-skiing. Despite being illegal in France, it’s an activity offered by La Rosière’s ski schools – Italy is so close that skiers can simply step over the border to be whisked away from there.
On a short sightseeing flight, my pilot points out the jagged outline of the Matterhorn, straddling the border between Italy and Switzerland. I learn that the col between Italy and France is closed to traffic during winter, reopening at the end of spring when snow ploughs clear the route. Locals gather at the top to celebrate the moment Italian and French drivers meet.
La Rosière sits on the border of France and Italy making it easy to hop between the countries
La Rosière might well have a new network of pistes but it retains the feel of a much smaller resort.
By the end of my week I’ve been invited to watch La Rosière’s ice hockey team play by one of my ski instructors, Christelle, who’s the team’s vice-president.
The slopes – for now – remain wonderfully uncrowded, but perhaps not for long. I picture La Rosière’s councillors, dragging pylons up the mountainside in 1960, near the spot where workmen building the new Club Med recently broke ground. And a phrase pops into my head: build it and they will come.
Doubles at Chalet l’Aiglon (chaletaiglon.com) cost from £148 per night B&B. EasyJet (easyjet.com) flies from London Gatwick to Geneva from £49.48 return. For more information, visit larosiere.net.